Life and Limb for Learning

This weekend a cousin of mine is taking his boys on the hike up Half Dome in Yosemite, about thirty-four years after I took him and his brother there. The last part of the Half Dome Trail is set on the rock face, where stanchioned cables are laid on in the summer to help people with the ascent, which would otherwise be a class 5 climb. It is still not for the faint-hearted.

Or at least that would be the judgment of an American in his armchair. It is not the judgment of the children of the village of Atuler in Sichuan, or their parents. This village, built on a mountaintop, is accessible to the ‘neighborhood school’ only via an 800-meter rock face that is climbed or descended using vine ladders and some free climbing. (Read about and see pictures of this hair-raising school commute here.) To put these children’s challenge in perspective, remember that the Half Dome cables go for only 120 meters, the prominence of Half Dome is about 400 meters, and the face of El Capitan itself is 900 meters high.

The reaction of foreign media was mainly tongue-clucking at the primitive conditions in which many rural Chinese lead their lives, as indeed those conditions deserve (and would deserve in other countries where the poor are left behind). Strangely, no one mentioned the fact that was immediately evident to me: the people of Atuler must attach great value to education—so much as to risk life and limb for it.


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